As a Young Voter in North Carolina, My Voice Won’t Be Silenced

Blue background with red gun blowing out red flowers.

I stood in the state Senate chamber on a humid Raleigh day, clutching my remarks as I waited my turn to speak. I wouldn’t need my notes though, I was already very confident as to what I planned to tell my lawmakers: gun violence is the number one killer of children and teens in America, and as a Black American, those stats tip even less favorably in my direction – and we need common sense gun safety. 

But before I was able to say my piece, the gavel sounded and the first hearing on a bill to repeal background checks in the state of North Carolina was suddenly over, after less than an hour. By March 29, just two days after the mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, the bill would become law as North Carolina Republicans voted to overturn Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) veto and dismantle a safeguard our state has had for over 100 years. 

I grew up in Charlotte and attended the largest public school in the state of North Carolina, where during my sophomore year rumors spread like wildfire that a fellow classmate had a gun and was ready to use it at school. Chaos ensued and, while thankfully it was a false alarm, it left lasting emotional fear that someone my age should not have to experience. 

Upon arriving at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, I immediately got to work. Our generation is disproportionately affected by gun violence, and though we bear the heaviest burden, our voices are often silenced the most. A major mission of mine is to demystify politics for people my age, especially since my peers often don’t know what their state lawmakers are doing and which bills are going through the North Carolina Legislature. Sadly, that’s what these lawmakers want — to quietly pass laws that they know we don’t support, and subvert our ability to make our voices heard. 

It’s no secret that this is one of the gun lobby’s strategies to implement their “guns everywhere” agenda — keeping young people and voters across the state who support gun safety unaware, unengaged and disenfranchised. A former board member and counsel for the National Rifle Association, who now lives in North Carolina, asked attendees at a Republican National Committee donor retreat for help in limiting voting on college campuses, pre-registration for 17-year-olds and same-day voter registration — all tactics to make it harder and less likely for young people to vote. 

We deserve to feel safe in a lecture hall, getting groceries, going to the movies and going about our daily lives. 

So it’s our job to advocate not just for common-sense gun safety, but also for policies that make it easier for North Carolinians to elect leaders that prioritize us, our safety and our mission to end gun violence in America. It’s our job to not let the gun lobby win by interfering with the democratic process.

The current Republican supermajority on the state’s highest court makes us all vulnerable and its existence is no accident either. Just this April, the GOP majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering is permitted, despite holding the year before that partisan gerrymandering violated the constitutional rights of North Carolinians. This supermajority and its partisan power grabs are ultimately by design. 

Republicans have pursued an extremist agenda this session, ahead of the safety, lives and well-being of their constituents. Between being so hellbent on eroding common sense gun reform while suppressing our democracy, they’re cruelly abusing their newfound power and instead leaving us in more danger than ever before. 

Since the vote to repeal background checks, there have been four mass shootings in North Carolina, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and gun store sales are surging. One gun store owner is reporting a nearly 250% increase in business and The Trace reports North Carolina saw a 282% increase in gun sales in April as compared to that month last year. 

It’s important to call this what it is — a campaign by the gun lobby and the politicians it supports to weaken gun laws to increase profits for the gun industry. The good news? Our voices have the ability to stop them. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be fighting tooth and nail to disenfranchise the youth vote. They’re scared of our votes, and quite frankly they should be. Our generation refuses to accept that this is how we must live. We deserve to feel safe in a lecture hall, getting groceries, going to the movies and going about our daily lives. 

Though my voice wasn’t heard on that muggy day in the Rotunda, a gavel will not dictate my voice. And neither will Republican lawmakers seeking to undermine our state’s safety and democracy. My generation is sick of being forced to live in a world shaped by the cowardice of politicians and we will hold them accountable at the state capitol, at the ballot box and at every single turn.

Kyle Lumsden is a rising junior at UNC Chapel Hill majoring in Medical Anthropology, and is the university’s president of Students Demand Action. She’s originally from Charlotte, North Carolina.